Thursday, 30 January 2020

Another Year In The Life Of A Cave Videographer

Here's Caver Keith's traditional annual caving roundup video. It contains some previously unseen footage.
It’s not been the most prolific year for the studios in terms of videos completed, but it has been a very good year in other ways. Keith's completed a couple of commissions, gone back to his roots, won a prize and an award, completed a behind the scenes video which had been in the planning stage for a couple of years and got his best ever viewing figures on YouTube with over 10 million caving video views in 2019.


Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Skyhook and beyond

Team: Chloe Francis, Duncan Hornby, Tim lewingdon, Helen Stewart & Claire Vivian

Trip date: 25/1/20


A few years ago Claire and I had the privilege of supporting a Freem filming trip beyond the sky hook at the top of Midnight Passage. It was quite an adventure and a part of the cave system I had certainly not visited before.

Last weekend a team of 5 got together to have a crack at the same route and hopefully lay down the foundation for future exploration in that part of the system. Helen, Tim and Claire had all passed through this section of the system on alternative routes but only Claire and I had been down the big pitch leading to Splash Inlet.

Claire, Chloe and I had to be back on the surface by 6pm as we were attending the Wealdon AGM Club Meal at the Abercrave Inn. With that in mind, Chloe, Claire and I packed the ropes the night before to save time in the morning.

On Saturday Helen arrived at 9:30am, we all did the obligatory tea/coffee/faff, shared out kit and were on our way to Top Entrance by 10:45.

Helen, Chloe, Tim, Claire and Duncan all looking sparkly, energetic and ready for adventure.
We powered our way through OFD II and arrived at the top of midnight passage collapsing in a sweaty heap ...Well Tim and I did! The ladies were of course barely out of breath! I really do need to get fitter!

Team having a short break at top Midnight Passage; Helen gets a power nap during the 1/40s exposure...clever party trick!
Whilst catching our breath I was told of some cool fossils just around the corner. I can’t believe I have never seen these, I must have walked passed them dozens of times.

In a small alcove where the team had stopped is a band of limestone with many impressive fossils.
The week before this trip I had been contacting various people to get a better understand of the rope lengths needed and top tips in rigging. The skyhook pitch has a loop of string that requires one to tie a rope off to it and pull up your rope, it was suggested a 40m rope would be enough, with length to spare.

Claire, Chloe and Tim waiting to ascend the Sky Hook.
Tim at top of sky hook.
Chloe stepping off the final traverse line at sky hook, Duncan in foreground.
Claire next to the curtains at top of Sky hook.
Helen prusiking up to sky hook.
On our way to what is identified as pitch “P20” on the map we passed many pretty crystal pools and in one place a fantastic curtain.

A close up of one of the many crystal pools that can be seen in the passages beyond the sky hook pitch.
Claire and a curtain, back lighting provided by Helen.
We finally arrived at pitch “P20”, we had a 55m rope and we backed up to a hole in the left wall, a small stal boss on the floor and this lead to a traverse line up to the two hangers in the left wall. I did a figure-8 off the final bolt for the main 20m hang. I don’t know if these hangers are “permanent” so it is probably prudent to bring a couple of hangers with you if you have any. Claire was the first to descend, no stopping her!

Duncan rigging “P20”.
At the bottom of the pitch is a very obvious “window” for the next pitch, which is marked as “P8” on the map. We had a 25m rope for this pitch and rigged off two boulders on the floor, 2 long slings were required.

There is a small hole off to the left as indicated by the arrow in the image below; you could go down that, and indeed Claire did, but I struggled to get through with my SRT kit on so the rest of us quickly abandoned that idea in favour of rigging the window. Be aware there are a couple of rub points (on both routes) so we used our tackle bags to try and stop this, would have been better to use proper rope protectors.

We went through the obvious window to descend the “P8” pitch. Arrow indicates the location of a small hole at floor level offering an alternative route down “P8” pitch.
Claire prusiking up small “P8” pitch. Arrow indicates where you would have popped out if you had crawled through the smaller hole.
We all excitedly descended and were ready to explore new territory...but then one of us looked at our watch. With some regret we had to turn around and start heading out as three of us needed to be back before 6pm.

Duncan looking a bit knackered after prusiking up”P20”
I personally felt we had achieved a lot, we had found our way to exactly where we wanted, whilst a strong team of experienced cavers it would probably be fair to say we did not have extensive knowledge in rigging. We have all done rigging but usually under the watchful eye of someone with lots of experience. So to be able to get ourselves down the pitches without any incidents was an important achievement!

Another lesson was just how much rope we needed, for P20 we brought 55m but 40m would have been fine even with our backing up to 2 naturals. The P8 pitch we brought 25m that could have been just 20m. So next time we will bring a 40m and 20m saving the weight of 15m of rope! In total we used 6 slings and 8 Krabs for rigging and rope protection. These stats do not include the skyhook pitch.

And finally I had forgotten just how tiring it is to carry a full SRT kit, ropes and rigging. I was knackered when we got out!

For the record we made it to the meal! :)

Trip Time: 6 hours

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Provisionals' / beginners' Weekend, November 2019

With a record breaking 30 people to arrange trips for, this weekend was a huge one. We had 18 people completely new to caving and 11 who were within their first year of starting caving with SWCC.
Meeting bright and early on Saturday morning to kick the weekend off.
8 separate trips took place on Saturday to different parts of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. With the streamway high, all trips stayed away from the water but with over 35 miles of cave to explore, there was still plenty for them to do.
Tomasz, Luke, Bev, Bob and Judit raring to go.

Emily, Antonia, Bill, Josh and Malcolm about to go to OFD2.
Darren, Celestine, Helen, Paul, Aga and Anna 

The trips proved to be fun and challenging at the same time and will best be explained in the words of some of the participants.






Sian


Sian in her first crawl underground
A dark, dreich and dreary 6 hour drive in the fog and lashing rain to a weekend underground with a group of folk I didn’t know .... what was I thinking ? Such were my thoughts as I drove the journey from North Devon to the SWCC. Over the last few approaching miles, visibility was next to nil and I felt like the only person around post apocalypse. Finally arriving I entered the clubhouse and immediately felt welcome and at ease. Food and a good nights sleep with fellow female newbies saw us eager to face the caving adventure the next morning.

The club was packed, we were assigned experienced leaders and different caving trips. Us newbie rabble were kitted up and finally off we went into the unknown. I was fortunate in having Claire and Pete as leaders. After a short trudge uphill we arrived at Top entrance .... and then the magic began.
Michelle trying out a squeeze
What followed was 5 hours of walking, climbing, crawling, traversing, squeezing through, squeezing around, standing in awe ... all skilfully led by Claire who was seamless in her instruction, pacing ... and friendliness. I felt safe.
Suze climbing near the Labyrinth
By the end of the trip I was exhilarated and my body felt well worked out! The evening was a blur of camaraderie, food, welcome hot shower, beer and fireworks. A real friendly time.
The Pinata game
The following morning, having found muscles we’d forgotten we had, some of us stayed to do a second trip. This time we entered through the bottom entrance ... and a completely different caving experience. Who knew that sideways rolypolying was a creditable caving technique?! The route was more technical than the previous day which was great for confidence building and enjoyment, again ably led by Claire.
Sian trying out her first wire traverse
The formations and features we came across were awe inspiring and the shared knowledge on their formation, stimulating. After a good four hours or so, as the newbie of the group I emerged completely thrilled at everything we as a group had done on the trip. The caving bug had bitten. The weekend wound down after a steaming shower with post trip banter over steaming tea and cake. What a weekend. For anyone considering venturing into the underground world, I really don’t think you could improve on a SWCC provisional weekend for its friendliness, caving experience, competence, bunkhouse facilities and all round fun factor. I’ll be back!



Emily


This past weekend saw me take on the magnificent caves in South Wales. I’m a member of a Facebook group called ‘Love Her Wild’, which is a group for women who like doing all sorts of adventurous activities, and I saw a post offering a beginners' caving session with the South Wales Caving Club. It sparked my interest immediately, and I signed up. Living up in Warrington I figured I could save money and the environment by seeing if there was anyone who wouldn’t mind car sharing, and thankfully there was. This made travelling down to the club a lot less intimidating. There really was no need to worry however, as when I arrived I was met by a lovely bustle of friendly faces, and people eager to show me around and chat about caving. I met some really interesting people this weekend, including people who had been caving for decades and had actually discovered some of these caves themselves. I also met people who were digging to discover more caves, as it’s known there are many more that haven’t been unearthed yet (I found that prospect quite exciting, yet the feel around the group was somewhat less enthusiastic due to the physical effort needed for such a job!).
Viewing underground formations 
This particular weekend was a great one for beginners to attend as it was the annual fireworks event for the club, and this brought out many of the usual members. This meant that we newbies were in good hands, as the wealth of knowledge everyone had about the caves was vast. The group sizes were kept to a maximum of six people, and with there being somewhere like 30 beginners here this weekend, that meant there were a lot of groups and therefore, many experienced cavers were required. I was given a kit list before I attended which consisted of mainly old warm clothes, and wellies. We had the option to bring our own kit if we had it to save costs, and luckily I had a climbing helmet I could use and a head torch (though I would discover later that torches that were good for night trail running, were not as good when used underground). What I didn’t have was an oversuit. This was a really thick material and provided a form of protection for yourself against sharp edges of the caves as well as protection from the mud. I was able to hire this from a local activity centre. Extra kit which might have been useful I discovered, were knee pads and neoprene socks. Luckily for me only my feet got wet this weekend, but often caving can involve travelling through underground streams, in which case a wetsuit is required under the oversuit, but because of the recent rain, those pathway tunnels were not safe to visit this time (I’m definitely going back to try them out though!).

The caving club has a big kitchen where you can cook your own food, dorm rooms with bunk beds separated male and female, and a ‘long common room’ where everyone chills out with a nice warm fire. This room has a massive map or ‘survey’ of the caves, so you can see where you’ve been. On Saturday morning we all met here at 09:30 and were allocated our caving teams. We then donned the kit and headed up the hill to the caves. Once inside I could see the difference my head torch made compared to the experienced cavers, but mine was good enough to get by. 

Throughout the trip I was given lots of information regarding how the caves were formed and the science behind the structures we saw. The actual caving consisted of walking, climbing, crawling and pulling yourself over, under and through the muddy rocks. You had to use your whole body to do this and often you were straddling chasms or jumping over big holes you could easily fall into. 
Darren traversing above Salubrious Streamway
In this beginner trip we didn’t use any rope or do any abseiling, but often caving can involve using these techniques to allow you deeper into the caves (definitely a must do for my next visit). All of the chambers/routes had interesting names, such as ‘Gnome Passage’, or ‘Brickyard’, or ‘Corkscrew’, which aptly described the locations well. We were underground for many hours and were advised to bring a snack because of this. I had absolutely no idea where I was the whole time, and immediately thought how easy it would be for someone to get lost if they didn’t know what they were doing. Often the path would seem obvious, but it would turn out to be a tiny hole facing the other way which you had to squeeze through to make progress. 
Admiring a crystal pool
We bumped into a few groups along the way and the community spirit shined through once more.
After the day’s adventure we hung up our kit in the drying room ready to explore again the following day. That evening we had the fireworks event which was pretty spectacular despite the wind and rain, and then it was off to bed after sharing a communal nachos and chilli (with veggie option).

The SWCC club hut with some fireworks

I was sad to see that the next day many of the beginners were headed home instead of caving again, I never discovered whether it was a logistics thing where they needed to get home, or if they’d had enough, but I was eager to get back down in the caves. 

The second days experience for me was a bit different than normal, as I was assisting some people practise filming with their brand new camera. This gave me the opportunity to try out some things with my GoPro too, which I’d never have considered previously. Unfortunately, because I had to get home, the second day of caving was not as long as the first, but it definitely gave me the bug to come back again and do more exploring. There are caves up closer to me in the Peak District and Yorkshire, so no doubt I’ll be visiting them soon to have a good old explore.

So, if you’d like to try caving give it a go. There are things for all skill levels and everyone is so accommodating. Thanks for a great weekend South Wales Caving Club, and hopefully I’ll see you again soon.


Suze

Paul and I have been caving at another club for a couple of years, but decided we wanted to get involved with another slightly bigger club and SWCC seemed like the ideal solution.

So, we duly arrived for our first provisionals trip, on a spectacularly wet day even by Welsh standards! Stomping up the hill to OFD2 it managed to dwindle to a cold drizzle which made the walk a little more agreeable, and our group gathered by the familiar hatch to the underworld. Having sustained a few injuries and still getting physio for a recent car accident tis was the first trip I'd been on for a while so I was both looking forward to it, and also a little anxious! We had a look at the survey as a group and then, we were off in to the hole, straight into that peace and darkness that envelops you underground.


With two novices in the group we did the standard "pure darkness" lights off moment, and then we were off into some great little passages, climbing up and over boulders, and onto a passage that was admittedly not my favourite with a lovely gap in the middle to straddle, and a bend with a small void which made me question why I'd put myself through this again. But after having a word with myself, and some words of reassurance (also known as "get a grip, you've done this a hundred times, now shift it") from Paul, we were past it and into the next chamber. 

Being short of leg, the next challenge was climbing the waterfall at Arete Chamber, not hard by any standards, but it's a bit of a stretch if you haven't the height for it! But the reward of the formations at the top was worth the effort! We eventually ended up at Salubrious which I loved and Trident and Judge which were great to see and grab some photos. Then it was time to turn back, and head towards the outside again. We left the novices to head on to a couple of other chambers and passages with our other leader, and headed on out with Claire, having a look at Gnome Passage on the way out, and the Wedding Cake (which is more like a dropped Wedding Cake actually). Outside the sun was glorious, okay it was absolutely hammering down, and we enjoyed a very wet walk back to the hut to clean up and grab a cuppa. A great trip, we had a fantastic time meeting new people and starting to learn more about navigating OFD2. Thank you so much to SWCC, and especially to Claire for her outstanding efforts organising everyone on the Saturday morning!



Paul




It’s not easy trying to compress a whole weekend of fun into a few paragraphs. Where to start… well I have to admit I have visited the SWCC HQ as a guest not so long ago (where I found out about last weeks beginners weekend in the process) so on this occasion I managed, despite the thick fog en route, to avoid all the fun and games of Google Maps insisting you should be using gated hill roads to get there (coming from the Brecon / Sennybridge direction). Being a complete outsider to the sport, I have to say, I was completely taken back by just how big and organised caving actually is. If I’m truthful I didn’t really know what to expect that first trip to the HQ… but a impressive, purposely converted row of 10 small cottages, in what seems like the middle of nowhere, probably wasn’t it (and I mean that in a good way, of course). I’d clearly underestimated the popularity of caving, the size of SWCC and more importantly the facilities it has available.
Viewing the Trident 
Despite probably living close enough to be able to have driven down each morning for the 9.30 starts I decided (following several recommendations) to stay over both Friday and Saturday nights to experience the post caving fun and games and I’m glad I did. Friday evening was certainly the quieter of the 2 evenings but I felt I’d learnt a lot very quickly through talking (and also just quietly listening) to members in long common room chat about caving until well past my bedtime. Having hired some kit from down the road and been sorted into groups and appointed a leader for the weekend Saturdays caving experience consisted of a tour around OFD 2… some parts of which I had seen before, the majority though was a whole new experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Everyone had different ideas of the worst bits of the day and it certainly pushed comfort zones for some but we all completed the route and made it out safe and sound with some patient encouragement from the leaders. There was a noticeable sense of achievement from everyone in our group whilst walking back down to the clubhouse though it was clear everyone was left with varying degrees of eagerness for more the following morning. Saturday evening started out much the same as Fridays… plenty of caving related conversation in the LCR to start with followed by even more entertainment, despite the foul weather, with an impressive firework display which literally kept everyone on their toes 😂. An excellent 2 course communal meal of nachos and Chilli soon followed and was very well received before the LCR chat resumed over a few pints of beer. Saturday was certainly the busier of the two evenings and with plenty of lubrication it wasn’t long before vocal chords were being exercised… a hilarious spectacle for those sober enough to remember it 😂. Retiring even later than the previous night, tired from laughing so much and with several beers on board I had a good night sleep! I may well have been one, of only a few, arising Sunday morning bright eyed and bushy tailed and keen for more caving. Sadly, the rest of the beginners in our group, through work & family commitments etc wouldn’t be joining in on Sundays caving trip.


Paul's Sunday group. Celestine, Helen, George and Paul
After a little re-jigging of the groups we soon on our way down the road to OFD 1 for a “dry” / high level / escape route trip. It’s hard to put into words but this lower system, seemed to me, to have a whole different atmosphere and right from the off proved much more challenging and consequently even more enjoyable than the previous day. Navigational “oversights” on the way back out resulted in what was, for a few seconds, a completely confusing and disorientating (but at the same time hilarious) situation of arriving back at the same boulder choke we’d passed through not 10 minutes or so before… much to the two more experienced leaders amusement at the back… a very good lesson learnt and made for a trip that I will certainly never forget! The walk back uphill to the club house brought the weekend, and what a weekend it was! to a close. Roll on just a week and having enjoyed the experience so much I’ve made my application to become a provisional member, already had another mid week trip to OFD 2 and bought some gear for next time so you can safely say I’m hooked… It wouldn’t be right to conclude this without a few thank yous Firstly to SWCC for welcoming a bunch of strangers to the club and running these beginner weekends… without which many wouldn’t get the chance to try caving at all. Also I must thank Helen & Celestine, the leaders of our particular group, for giving up their time to show us beginners around though, of course, they are just a few of many volunteers who obviously work hard to make these weekends a success. Lastly but perhaps most importantly a thank you must go to Claire for organising it all… I can only imagine the amount of time and effort required to coordinate everything make the weekend run so smoothly. If anyone is reading this is in two minds about giving caving a go, especially at  one of the SWCC beginners weekends a go I can only say do it! You won’t regret the experience! 



Aga




I had a great day. It was very challenging but I was able to finish the route with the help and support from our guides, Helen and Celestine.
Paul, Helen, Anna, Aga and Darren outside OFD2, Top Entrance
Going underground is a very unique experience, you get to explore an environment that is beautiful and very much off the beaten path.

Anna at Swamp Creek
The trip might not be easy but SWCC is a very friendly community that would make anyone feel welcomed and at ease.

Celestine advising Aga how best to approach a climb


Tomasz


Thank you very much for the great weekend with SWCC. I am very impressed with everything I have seen and experienced. People are fantastic, caves are epic and the club very well organized, especially your organizational skills are just outstanding. My mind is still with you guys at Penwyllt and underground. The commitment of the club committee and all members to organise the provisional weekend for beginners and bonfire night for everyone was just unbelievable, caving trips, food, beer, heating, fireworks, accommodation and entertainment, everything spot on.  I would like to come back as soon as possible and get more involved in your activities. I look in the SWCC  blog, and the things you have done are amazing. I am very excited about becoming part of your team.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Alton Towers

Team: Tash Brudenall, Jess Burkey, Keith Edwards, Jane Sarginson, Claire Vivian.

Now where do cavers go when they aren't caving? I bet that's the question you are all asking yourselves. The answer for us at least is Alton Towers on the wetest day of the year so far! Fast and thrilling rides with the added fun of painful rain hitting you in the face as you zip through the air from 0-100kmph in 2.5 seconds on one ride. We only made the mistake of sitting in the front row in the heavy rain on one ride - and feeling like we'd been through a pressure washer afterwards.

What rain? This is Alton Towers!!! 

The fun had started about 30 minutes after we left Mark and Jess' house. We had factored in queuing a lot at Alton Towers as it was half term, but we had not considered the 4 badly flooded roads we came across on the way to Uttoxeter. Jess drove admirably through the water as the rest of us watched the bow waves dispersing. What a star of a car! Only a couple of little coughs and hiccups from the engine before we got a Wetherspoons breakfast.

All smiles! It really did stop raining.

The closest thing above ground to a Longwood-August trip occured as the rain hammered down on us while we queued for Thir13teen for over an hour. Trench foot set in and we could feel ourselves gradually losing feeling in fingers and toes. To relieve the misery, we went for lunch to take the chill away and dry out a bit.
Jane, Keith and Jess watch the mighty Oblivion

After lunch,  it was like a different day entirely. The sun came out and there was even blue sky. Perfect Autumn roller coaster weather!!

Smiler does its thing (there are 14 loops)

We went to the X-Sector for some of the biggest rides in the park (Smiler and Oblivion). Barely 15 minutes queuing for Smiler for all 5 of us using the single rider queue. Result!! 

Nemesis zooms past the queue. Would you believe it! The ride is 25 years old this year, having opened in 1994.

David Attborough meets Nemesis

As it got dark we got even more excited with the chance to ride all these amazing rides in the dark! We all stayed until the bitter end, leaving the park at 21.30 and having been on every ride there, except the Wicker Man wooden roller coaster, which was closed. Oh well. Guess we'll just have to go back again to try that one!

Trip time: 11 hours of theme park fun.
The team take on the spooks in "Duel"
Even more flooding on the way home. Jess and her awesome car once more came to the rescue and showed those floods who was the boss.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Top trips and “collector pieces”!

Team: Chloe Francis, Duncan Hornby, Stephen Johnson, George Linnane, Sanita Lustika, James Meredith, Paul Meredith, Helen Stewart, Phil Thomas, Claire Vivian, Hwyel Protheroe-Jones

Dates: 18-20th October 2019.


Authors: Chloe Francis, Duncan Hornby & Claire Vivian


Sludge Pit Hole team in a part of Main Rift passage.


On arriving at the MNRC hut we were greeted by the hut warden, David. We were able to obtain a variety of keys which gave us the opportunity to pick and choose our trips. Then for some, it was an obligatory visit to the Hunters Lodge!

A sneaky shot of Chloe and Duncan at the Hunters.

The team at the MNRC.


Saturday

Three trips ran on Saturday each have their own report:




Charterhouse Cave


Many thanks to Peter Hall, local Mendip caver who was the guide for this trip. Photos by Sanita.

The cave seemed to have two modes - you are going through a narrow-ish bit or you are comfortable to walk, where subjectively it felt like most of the time you spend in the narrow-ish bits of some shape and form. Never the less it was great fun and a well worth trip. Like it says in the cave description, the first proper formation you come across is the Curly Wurly Stal which you can partly see from a hole in the wall of the passage first and once you turn a corner it turns out to be even bigger and nicer looking.



The Curly Wurly Stal.
Our next stop was the Splatter Chamber, where we got to hear about some theories as to why the splatter is there. 

Splatter Chamber.
After some crawling, we came out in the Grotto of the Singing Stal. You don’t tune into it straight away but once everyone had put their lights out, you could hear it ‘sing’. It sounded like a happy squirrel munching on a nut or something. 

 

Grotto of the Singing Stal. The stal sounded like a squirrel munching on a nut or something.

A fossil as fat as your finger!

Little splatter formation.
Unfortunately, The Narrows ended up being too narrow for one of us so we had to continue as a party of three. Past the Narrows Frozen Cascade and the Blades were the most impressive formations.


The Blades.
As the cave description says Portal Pool sumps from autumn to spring. Though Peter started to water pumping process, we wouldn’t have gotten much time on the other side, so we opted to not go through the Portal Pool. Instead, we had a listen to the strange noises the air-bell was making...

Turn the sound on your computer and watch the video to 
hear the weird gurgling sound the air-bell made.

We then had a quick look at the Timeline passage with the crystal pool cascade and then made our way back at a leisurely pace taking photos of all the pretties.


The Frozen cascade.

The formation opposite Frozen cascade with Peter Hall in the background

Little helictites before we turn around and make our way back.
The Timeline. This was our turnaround point next to the Portal Pool after listening to the airbell which was making deep, industrial factory-like noises. 
On the way back we had a quick stop at the Citadel to look at the Blobs. They were strangely pretty for the fact that there was not much there in terms of shape or size.
The Blobs at the Citadel chamber.
Trip length: 4-5 hours leisurely pace to the Portal Pool.


GB Cave

As this was Hywel's first SWCC trip and first visit to the Mendips we thought we'd treat him to the splendour that is GB. Massive passageway, plenty of formations and a waterfall to climb. What's not to like about that?


Helen, Hywel and Chloe at the entrance.
The rain in Wales the previous week had been tremendous and it had almost been impossible to see through the windscreen at times on the journey over on Friday evening as the rain was torrential. We were expecting GB to have a lot of water and so decided to do the round trip with a couple of short extensions. We thought the duck into Ladder Dig Extensions would be impassable, so didn't bring a ladder. 


Helen, Hywel and Chloe on the Bridge.
But we were wrong. We went to have a look at the waterfall and could see that the water was nowhere near the level we were expecting, it was quite low!


Still enjoying the sights of GB.
We were committed to the round trip now so off we went. We put Hywel at the front of the group for a lot of the trip so he could have a go at exploring the cave for the first time, without just being led. All the group were capable cavers, so it didn't take long to complete the circuit. It was great to have GB to ourselves on an Autumn Saturday afternoon. The only people we saw were a student group we met at the entrance as we exited the cave.


Still smiling!


Hywel climbing towards the end of White Passage.
Chloe enjoying the wet grovel.

Chloe admiring some pretties near the entrance.
The sun was shining brightly when we got out and although we were tempted to go and do a second cave in Burrington (Rod's Pot), the lure of lunch and a walk won out. We went to Blagdon and walked around the fields and lake instead.


Blagdon.
Trip time: 2.5 hours



Sludge Pit Hole

For much of my caving career this cave has been closed to cavers. A few years ago a change in land ownership meant the access to this cave was improved and is now accessible if you can obtain a CSCC key.

Whilst not Mendips longest system it is a sporty cave and you can easily pass the time exploring the various routes and bitter ends.

The entrance is tucked away in an overgrown depression in a field just up the road from the Wessex Caving Club.


Entrance to Sludge Pit Hole.
A short scramble leads to the 8m pitch. It has a couple of P-bolts and a convenient ledge, so a nice pitch for beginners or people less experienced in the dark art of going up and down wire ladders.


Stephen about to climb main pitch.

Paul at main 8m pitch near the entrance.
We followed the obvious way on which lead us down the steep main rift, this was some of the larger passages within the cave. It terminates at a sump and a particularly dodgy section of the cave with the roof seemingly propped up with a stack of rotting logs. Eek!


Group resting at the sump at the end of main rift passage.

The roof seemingly held up with a stack of rotting planks, this is a few metres away from the sump.
We then did a variety of routes, initially via Aragonite rift back to the entrance, then back towards the skeleton series via the maze and finally back towards the entrance via the shale series.


Team in Main Rift passage.
It was a lot of fun seeking out the various routes and trying to connect parts of the cave. As the system is quite small there was never the fear of getting totally lost as you would do in the much bigger Welsh systems.

But word from the wise going UP shale passage towards the entrance is quite cramped and arduous, definitely would be much easier going DOWN it!

Trip time: 4 hours



Saturday Night


The mystery of the elusive Ploughboy

We stayed at the MNRC, which happily was in walking distance to a pub: The Ploughboy. We knew the walk was tinged with danger, along a busy main road in total darkness. Taking measures to avoid any pre-pub injuries, we ensured we were suitably equipped with high viz jackets and head torches. Marching in single file along the road felt like being on a weird school trip...heading for the best destination ever! Eventually, after about 20 minutes, we reached the pub. James un-clenched his bum cheeks as we re-grouped in the car park. Ah, safety at last!

Imagine our devastation when we realised the pub was closed. There were no lights on. Nobody was there; the whole place was completely deserted. Horror. Dejectedly, we turned around and trudged back towards the hut. Duncan called the Vic, who reckoned they could just about squeeze our party in. I was now hopeful that my Saturday night dinner would not consist of soggy, half-eaten caving mars bars and instant noodles (must bring better food next time).

On arrival back at the hut (the walk felt longer on the way back without the anticipation of destination pub), we figured out who was going to drive. Helen S volunteered to take people in her very lovely and fairly new VW Golf estate. We eagerly clambered in, our mouths watering at the thought of the delicious food which awaited us. However, due to a flat battery in the car key, Helen’s engine would not start. Everyone exited the vehicle.

Eventually we managed to arrange everyone into cars and off we headed to the pub! Helen made some calls to try and resolve her key situation - the issue was solved the next morning with a trip to Wells to get a new battery. We have a great time at the Vic, with plenty of food, beer and good company.


Sunday

Taking advantage of the cave keys, two trips ran on the Sunday:




Singing River Mine


Ah, Sunday. The perfect time of the week to relax; tolerate your family; catch up on televised sport - or, in the case of a hardy group of SWCC members - explore a disused mine! The order of the day was Singing River Mine. It’s peak activity was in the 18th and 19th centuries mining calamine: the ore of zinc and lead.

The mine is located in Shipham, in the back garden of a house down Folly Lane. It was a strange experience to open someone’s front gate and walk through their garden in search of underground adventure.
The Dream Team about to descend Singing River - photo: Helen Stewart.
Phil rigged the entrance ladder pitch and one by one we descended. I paid very careful attention as we explored the complicated labyrinth of passages, mindful of being able to find our way back in time for tea and cake. Although we had a copy of the description, none of us had bothered to read it before entering the mine. In hindsight, this would have been very helpful.

Eventually we found the lakes - woohoo! They were wonderfully clear and blue. As nobody fancied getting fully submerged, it was time to turn around. It would be cool to take a raft down next time to sail across.


View of lake.
Trip time - approximately 2 hours.



Attborough Swallet

Yet another collectors piece to tick off, Attborough Swallet is a short drive away from the MNRC hut. Parked in a lay-by, crossed the road and a short walk into a depression to a bright yellow concrete entrance. Can’t get much nearer than that.

This is yet another small cave with no fear of actualy getting lost. Cotham Hall is the largest chamber with a few routes leading off into various tight, wet, gnarly crawls.


Stephen the mole!
Team Meredith at entrance of Attborough Swallet.
Claire was leading the group as we got towards “Twist and Shout”, hesitant to descend a climb Claire crawled out to let me have a look. By virtue of being too large I had to partially descend the climb so I could turn around and get out of the crawl, it was at that point I realised the climb was much easier than it looked so called the others to continue. A few metres on and the tables were turned and I was hesitant to commit to a climb but Claire was small enough to get down it and work out where the foot holds were.Stephen jumped at the chance and quickly disappeared down into Watery Rift which terminated in a flat out crawl in a stream.

We then returned to Cotham Hall and explored Nasty Nasty which was a grim crawl into a wet and muddy tube, most of us bailed out on that! But Claire and James went out to sample more of the misery and reached a climb down that belled out at the bottom before throwing the towel in and going back to meet the others.

We then headed out via a tube connecting Cotham Hall to Happy Mondays. This short cave is a great Sunday trip if you wanted to get away early but still get a bit of caving in.


Paul squeezing out of tube which connected Cotham Hall chamber to Happy Mondays passage.



The rather muddy team at entrance.
This was the trip where we also found monkey, soon christened 'David Attborough', abandoned in the lay-by near the cave.


The now “unofficial” mascot of SWCC?
Trip time 2.5-3 hours